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Timelines: 1989

Prev : Next Epogen®


The first biotech blockbuster

Amgen markets Epogen®, a recombinant version of erythropoietin (EPO), for the treatment of anemia in kidney and AIDs patients. Erythropoietin is a protein manufactured in the kidneys. It is involved in the regulation of red blood cell production in bone marrow. When kidney function is impaired, patients lack sufficient EPO, their red blood counts decline, and they suffer from anemia. The introduction of exogenous EPO is a remedy.

Before the invention of recombinant DNA, it was difficult to manufacture high-grade erythropoietin in volumes sufficient for medical treatments. In the early 1980s, Amgen scientist Fu-Kien Lin clones the gene for erythropoietin, and then invents and patents several different methods of manufacturing the protein. Amgen selects a technique that transfects the gene into mammalian cells – Chinese hamster ovary cells (CHO cells). The CHO cells produce EPO in abundance. The recombinant version is not identical to natural human erythropoietin, but very similar, and its biological properties make it an effective therapy.

When the company receives FDA approval to market the product as a treatment for anemia in kidney dialysis patients, it becomes an immediate blockbuster. Epogen’s great success is important, not only for Amgen, but for the entire industry. The timely blockbuster validates the patience and faith of investors.

CEO George Rathmann – the company’s first and only chief executive – steps aside shortly before the Amgen delivers Epogen® to doctors and patients. Having set up the company on a solid commercial foundation, he hands the reins over to former CFO Gordon Binder.

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